By William Haupt III | The Center Square contributor
President Ronald Reagan in April 1986 – Mark Reinstein | Shutterstock
“I did not leave the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party left me.” – Ronald Reagan
Growing up during the Great Depression, Reagan idolized Franklin D. Roosevelt. The New Deal helped many families in financial need. As a result of his admiration for FDR, Reagan registered as a Democrat and cast his first vote for Roosevelt for president. A lifelong Democrat, it was not until he became president of California’s Screen Actors Guild that his political leanings completely changed.
When Ronald Reagan went to bat for labor against studio executives, Democrats controlled the movie industry. In a tough battle, Reagan won the creation of the residual payment system and the actor’s pension and health plan that lives on today. Unfortunately, Reagan’s victory would become his Waterloo as an actor and he soon found himself out of work and ended up getting a job in TV.
In 1962, at age 51, he left the Democratic Party and became a Republican. He said that he didn’t leave the Democratic Party, the party left him. After a brief stint in television, Ronald Reagan was elected twice as governor of California. He then won the presidency of the United States and served from 1981 to 1989.
“I have always told people, how can a president not be an actor?” – Ronald Reagan
With the evolution of political parties in America until they found their true identify, party switching was quite common. But since the 20th century, although some voters will vote for a candidate from another party, the majority of Republican and Democratic voters have retained their party affiliation.
Partisan affiliation has been one of the most stable features of the modern American electorate for decades. While people’s feelings toward individual politicians or their attitudes will waver at times, political partisanship is a deep-seated identity that is resistant to change.
“I am a Republican, a Black, dyed in the wool Republican, the party of Black freedom and progress.” – Frederick Douglass
However, within the last five years, a political shift is beginning to take hold across the U.S. as tens of thousands of suburban swing voters who helped fuel the Democratic Party’s gains last election are becoming Republicans. While the numbers in the two major parties remain roughly the same, 13% of the partisans that have changed party affiliation have gone from Democrat to Republican.
According to voter registration data analyzed by the Associated Press, more than a million voters across 43 states have switched to the Republican Party over the last year. Democrats have seen their largest losses among older voters; non-college whites, those that do not like big government and disapprove of their far left turn on race, CRT, social justice, global warming, and transgender issues.
Voter registration data shows these numbers reflect a phenomenon that is playing out in virtually every region of the country since Joe Biden and Democrats took control of Washington. This is in both Democratic and Republican states, in big cities and small towns in all regions of our nation.
Nowhere is this more dangerous for Democrats than in the suburbs, where well-educated swing voters who had turned against Donald Trump’s appeal to blue collar workers appear to be swinging back. Over the past year, across suburban counties from Denver to Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Cleveland, far more people are switching to the GOP. Republicans also gained ground in medium-size cities such as Raleigh, North Carolina; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Augusta, Georgia; and Des Moines, Iowa.
One Colorado voter who reregistered as a Republican told an AP reporter, “I could no longer put up with the party’s inability to quell violent crime or its obsession with racial justice. Too many of their policies now appeal to small segments of society; not to the average working middle class.”
According to L2, a political data firm that uses a combination of state voter records and statistical modeling to determine party affiliation, over one million voters who switched affiliations across 42 states in the last 12 months formally changed their registration from Democrat to Republican.
The loss of a million voters by Democrats does not mean success for Republicans in the midterms. Especially since there are so many lackluster GOP candidates running for key offices. But it is an opportunity for Republicans to choose more prepossessing candidates as they gear up for 2024.
“Campaigning is talking to the people, telling them what you will do; then doing it.” – Marco Rubio
The Republican National Committee has been hosting voter registration events at gas stations in swing states like Arizona, Michigan, Nevada and Pennsylvania to link Biden and the Democrats to record-high gas prices and inflation. RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel told the AP, “The Democrats and Biden are totally out of touch with the American people. That’s why voters are turning to the GOP.”
The scope and breadth of the party-switching suggests the Democrats move to the progressive left does not appeal to middle class America. Over the past year, nearly every state moved in the same direction as thousands of voters became Republicans, especially in rural and suburban America.
In Iowa, Democrats used to hold a 2-to-1 margin in party changers. That flipped last year, with the GOP ahead by the same amount. The same happened in Ohio. In Florida, Republicans captured 70% of party switchers last year. In Pennsylvania, Republicans captured 63% of party changers.
Justin Bieber wrote, “The grass is only greener on the other side if you water it.” Even with Biden’s weak popularity and with most voters fearing America is walking the wrong path, Republicans will not benefit unless they offer real solutions to the problems created by Biden and the progressives. These Republicans are middle-class voters, not corporate elites. It would not only be good for the GOP if they develop polices that work for all America, it might influence Democrats to do the same.
Emily Seidel, head of Americans for Prosperity, said her network is seeing first-hand that suburban voters are distancing themselves from Democrats who represent extreme policy positions. But that doesn’t mean that they’re ready to vote against those lawmakers either. Candidates have to make their case, they have to give these voters something to be for, not just something to be against.
According to the AP, there was not a single “got ya” issue that convinced most of these Democrats to switch parties. Like Ronald Reagan said, they felt that the “Democratic party left them” when it became the party of progressives, socialism, special interests and the party of radical social justice.
Can the GOP lead by example and right the ship for all America? Time will tell.
“If a political party does not have its foundation in the determination to advance a cause that is right and that is moral, then it is not a political party; it is merely a conspiracy to seize power.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower